Shabby ‘chic’

Shabby ?chic?

I’ve received so many calls the past two years from friends, family and acquaintances who, knowing that I’m in the hotel industry, are seeking my advice on where to stay when traveling. Most echo the sentiment that they had been disappointed with their recent hotel experiences due to “worn out” hotel product even at the top end of the market. I’ve heard sagas of faded bed coverings, stained carpets, old wall coverings and club floor lounges that resembled cafeterias. They’re not complaining about design or décor that may be a bit outdated — they’re complaining about things being “shabby” and poorly maintained. Is there any excuse for this, including a poor economy? I think not.

I’m of the belief that a hotel should shine at its best when times are tough, not just when the economy is booming and RevPAR escalating. Isn’t a recession the perfect time to create guest loyalty and say loud and clear that we appreciate our customers by maintaining our product standards and services? I recognize that a downturn in the economy requires greater cost efficiencies and reductions, but should the guest be penalized for these? Does a business decline have to necessitate a decline in standards, or is it the simply the most expedient response to tough times? These are rhetorical questions for me — I say “no” on all counts.

I know the challenges of operating during a recession. I was supervising the operation of an independent hotel in Manhattan when our current downturn hit. The management team went through the requisite analysis of every expense, but focused on increasing efficiencies versus reducing standards. We created innovative, low-cost guest appreciation programs embraced by our customers. When we reached specific rate benchmarks, we automatically upgraded guests, trading room sales efficiency for guest satisfaction. We offered our highest-paying customers complimentary continental breakfast that they could trade for a credit for other food and beverage offerings. We took advantage of the occupancy decline, and the team personally inspected every guestroom. Those rooms with deficiencies were taken out of inventory while all repairs were made at one time. We inventoried every storeroom and put all FF&E reserves into circulation. By refusing to bow to the recession, we achieved our financial goals as well as guest service scores and exceeded our market share.

Shabby is never “chic.” What it is, however, is a self-fulfilling prophecy for poor performance and dissatisfied guests. We have an obligation to our customers during both bad and good times, and this shouldn’t change with our bottom line. What do you think is your obligation to the guest?